Dixon pleads guilty, receives probation, resigns post, effective in February

Surrounded by members of her staff, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon announces that she will resign, part of a plea deal that brought a years-long corruption investigation to a close and ended the tenure of the city's first female mayor.

Dixon left office Feb. 4, the day she was sentenced both for a guilty plea she entered in a perjury case and for her embezzlement conviction in December 2009. She kept her $83,000 pension, and her criminal record will be wiped clean if she completes the terms of her probation within four years.

A teary Dixon returned to City Hall to announce her resignation, saying that she was doing so "with deep regret and sadness." She did not apologize but said there would come a time, after sentencing, that she could give her full side of the story.

"I love the city. I love the people of this city," said Dixon, who was raised in West Baltimore, where she still lives. "Now it's time to move on." (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron / January 6, 2010)

Mayor Sheila Dixon's plea deal - crafted in legal terms such as Probation Before Judgment and Alford plea - left many questions about her criminal record and her future. Here's a primer on the arrangement and the events it will trigger:

Dixon will receive a Probation Before Judgment, or PBJ. What is that?

Probation Before Judgment is a legal procedure that allows the court to dispose of minor cases against people whom prosecutors do not consider to be serious felons, says David Gray, assistant professor of law at the University of Maryland.

"What it does," Gray says, "is allows prosecutors and the defense to say, we will not prosecute you if you stay out of trouble or meet other terms."

Typically it's used for low-level offenses such as speeding or minor drug infractions. If terms are met, the charges are dismissed.

Dixon entered an Alford plea to a perjury charge. What is that?

In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt and acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to prove its case, but maintains that procedural issues have tainted the process. For instance, a defendant who contends that he was subjected to an illegal search might enter an Alford plea if during that search, police found all of the evidence used to prosecute him.

"It's a way of saying, 'I agree you have all of the facts, but nonetheless I want to preserve my appellate right," Gray says.

Douglas Colbert, a professor of law at the University of Maryland, says the use of the Alford plea is "relatively rare" and "allows a person to avoid saying, 'I did it.' "

Who will pay Dixon's legal fees?

George Nilson, the Baltimore city solicitor, says taxpayers will not foot the bill. He says the fees will either be forgiven, reduced or be paid privately. "They will not be paid for by the City of Baltimore," he says.

Arnold M. Weiner, Dixon's lead lawyer, said she had no intention of asking the city to pay her legal fees.

Will Dixon have a criminal record?

Gray says no, as long as she follows through on the terms of the plea deal.

"The mayor will not have any criminal record at all at the termination of the agreement," Gray says.

What is the procedure for Dixon to expunge her record?

At the end of her probation period, Dixon will appear before a judge, who will determine whether she has met the terms. If she has, her record will be cleared.

Will Dixon be able to run for public office again?

Dixon can run for office, Nilson says, once she completes the probationary period detailed in her plea agreement. That's a period of four years, but can be reduced to two. That would leave her eligible to run for office in 2012.